Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Crime and Punishment

"Club 12" eh? Who foresaw their meteoric rise from obscurity to the Elysian fields of the SPL? And w(h)ither Rangers?

There is much doom and gloom and talk of lose-lose decisions for the remaining SPL bigwigs as they wrestle with this thorniest of dilemmas. On the one hand Rangers need to be punished for their misdemeanours, relegation to the lowest tier of the SFL seeming to be acceptable to the fans of other clubs. On the other hand that will hit the remaining SPL clubs hard in the pocket, through the loss of cash from visiting Rangers fans and potentially reduced TV money. On that front the rumours seem to be that SKY/ESPN will countenance a single season without Rangers in the SPL, but not longer than that.

Amongst all this uncertainty the SFA, we are led to believe, are going to take action! Yes, that was "SFA" and "action" in the same sentence. It takes some getting used to. Attempts are being made to streamline the game in line with Henry McLeish's report, i.e. merge SPL and SFL, keep the SPL as is and re-brand the First Division as SPL2 with Rangers parachuting into it, introduce a proper pyramid structure to properly reward ambitious and well-run clubs, etc. Ambitious stuff, though not without problems - e.g. do Dundee (2nd in First Division) or Dunfermline (relegated from SPL) take Rangers place? (play-off maybe?) Will fans of other clubs accept Rangers only dropping into the First Division, and if not will they then make good on their promises of walking away from the game?

I wonder if the SFA aren't missing a trick. There is an opportunity here to kill all the birds with one stone. Below I've outlined my blueprint for Scottish football. Like all the best ideas it was hastily cobbled together in the space of a few minutes ;o) The benefits as I see them are:
  • we get a decent SPL of 16 teams, i.e. 30 matches a season, no Mickey Mouse split needed 3/4 of the way through.
  • with "only" 30 games there's enough room for a winter break.
  • Rangers are punished by demotion to the lowest level of the league, which happily for SKY/ESPN is now only one level below the top.
  • teams in SPL and SPL2 are roughly split according to the "size" of the club - a nebulous concept admittedly, but I'm using average home attendance as a reasonable proxy for this. Rangers aside, we only end up with the small anomaly of SPL2's Partick Thistle being "bigger" than a handful of SPL teams - but then the odd anomaly is no bad thing in sport.
  • 2 teams go up/down between SPL and SPL2 each season. Play-offs between 2nd bottom SPL team and teams 2-4 from SPL2 (same as current SFL play-offs).
Previously the SPL owners have rejected a 16 team set up as not generating enough income. But they seem to think they can handle the relegation of Rangers (and potentially a significant loss of TV money), so I'm sure they could adapt to a 16 team league.

I know some people feel that a 16 team league will lead to "meaningless" games, so I would definitely link performance (i.e. league points) to the sharing out of at least some of the TV money. A win in a "meaningless" game might then be the difference between affording a new player next season or not.

In addition I'd have a similar system to that used in Germany, whereby teams have to renew a license each year in order to operate within the league. Keeping a license could involve submitting properly audited accounts, having youth coaching schemes inspected and approved, maintaining suitable training facilities, etc. Once the exact criteria are decided clubs should be given 5 years to meet the standards. I would also have the SFA ring fence some of the TV money for meeting these standards - no more splurging the cash on some guy that played twice for Honduras U21s a few years ago.

That's enough blether now. Below is the starting point for SPL and SPL2. Comments welcome as ever!


NB Teams ordered by final 2011-12 league position (with one obvious exception!) average attendances for 2011-12 in brackets.

Celtic - 50,904
Motherwell - 5,946
Dundee United - 7,481
Heart of Midlothian - 13,381
St. Johnstone - 4,169
Kilmarnock - 5,537
St. Mirren - 4,492
Aberdeen - 9,296
Inverness Caledonian Thistle - 4,023
Hibernian - 9,909
Dunfermline Athletic - 4,799
Ross County - 2,874
Dundee - 6,879*
Falkirk - 5,386*
Hamilton Academical - 2,897*
Livingston - 4,938*

* attendances taken from last season in which the team played in the SPL

Partick Thistle - 4,710
Raith Rovers - 1,933
Greenock Morton - 1,814
Ayr United - 1,655
Queen of the South - 1,551
Cowdenbeath - 366
Arbroath - 793
Dumbarton - 632
Airdrie United - 810
Stenhousemuir - 603
East Fife - 598
Forfar - 507
Brechin - 521
Albion Rovers - 484
Stirling Albion - 557
I can't believe it's not Rangers - 46,324

(NB avg. attendances for teams in SFL2 in 2011-12 were taken from here - last updated on March 27th 2012 so incomplete)

Below this I would go for something like North and South regional leagues, to include the remaining current SFL teams plus Highland/Junior/East of Scotland/etc/etc teams as required/desired. Let's face it, in footballing terms Montrose won't miss too much if they exclusively play against teams in the north east/highlands instead of the likes of Clyde, Stranraer or Berwick Rangers. And vice versa of course. Keeping this level of the game regional will save travel costs for teams and fans and encourage local rivalries. At the end of the season I would have the top 2 teams in each region play-off against each other for 2 promotion places, i.e. North Team 1 v South Team 2 and North Team 2 v South Team 1. Of course you could do things a bit differently, maybe beef up the existing Highland/Junior/East of Scotland leagues and arrange promotion between the respective winners using a different format.

Regional Leagues
Alloa Athletic - 672
Queen's Park - 519
Stranraer - 354
Elgin City - 628
Peterhead - 488
Annan Athletic - 473
Berwick Rangers - 396
Montrose - 335
Clyde - 566
East Stirlingshire - 321
Highland/Junior/East of Scotland/etc. teams

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